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Appeal filed over prayer at Chino Valley Unified school board meetings

By in Press Enterprise on May 18, 2017

By Beau Yarbrough

CHINO >> Chino Valley Unified school board members’ practice of praying during meetings is constitutional and a district court judge’s attempt to curtail it is a violation of their First Amendment rights, according to a new appeal filed on the board’s behalf.

A group called Freedom From Religion Foundation sued the school board in November 2014, saying when board members invoke God’s name and pray – not just at the beginning of the meetings but all throughout – they violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

A judge last year agreed, demanding board members desist from “reciting prayers, Bible readings and proselytizing at board meetings.”

But the board voted 3-2 to appeal that decision, hiring Murrieta-based law firm Tyler & Bursch to represent them.

PREVIOUSLY: Under new rules, when is prayer allowed at Chino Valley school board meetings?

“School boards are deliberative public bodies that qualify for the legislative prayer exception,” lawyer Robert Tyler wrote in his April 26 opening brief.

Prior legal cases

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Town of Greece v. Galloway that local officials may open public meetings with prayers – even explicitly Christian ones – so long as the government agency does not discriminate against minority faiths when choosing who may offer a prayer and the prayer does not coerce participation from nonbelievers.

“In the town of Greece, (New York), the prayer is delivered during the ceremonial portion of the town’s meeting,” Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion reads in part. “Board members are not engaged in policy-making at this time.”

Tyler argues that the school board’s use of prayer is allowable under Greece v. Galloway.

“School boards are not the same as a school-sponsored, student-centered event […]    

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